I LOVE this quote from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It sums up my daughter perfectly – although now age 7, she is getting to be rather tall, but still only 7 and therefore still officially little, having been a living, breathing person upon this planet for less than a fifth of my own life, and despite the rather scathing comment from a woman recently who declared upon hearing my children’s ages, “Oh not very young at all then”. Since when are 5 and 7 not young?! At age 5 and 7 they are fully independent and all grown up and the role of parents in their lives is now totally redundant?! This was the woman’s response to my justification for only working part time. Why do I need to justify my working hours to a total stranger? Is part time working only wholly acceptable until children are a certain age? What is that age? Is part time working only acceptable for mothers? And is there a proportional scale of acceptable working hours as measured by child age? Why do we need to explain decisions that literally only affect our own family to complete strangers who shove their opinions on us?
I digress. This woman really riled me though.
Back to my fierce little girl. Yesterday morning, after I had read this fabulous article by Lucy at Lulastic, she snuggled up to me in bed and we talked about it. I realised that, although body autonomy and consent are issues that are hugely important to me especially in parenting, I had never considered exploring the difference between a ‘secret’ and a ‘surprise’, and despite encouraging my children to always talk openly with me and their dad, that by using the word secret when actually meaning surprise, we could be unwittingly leaving them open to potential harm. I realised that as recently as two weeks ago, I had encouraged my daughter to be a good secret keeper like me, as I had managed to conceal The Husband’s birthday present for 4 months straight. What a silly thing to say! I’m often mindful of my language and realise how powerful words can be, and I felt stupid for saying this to my little girl. This wasn’t a secret, it was a surprise, it was always going to be revealed on his birthday, and The Princess and I chatted about this difference for quite a while. She got it, straight away. She came up with a load of scenarios and we talked through each one.
We were done, I thought, and we snuggled for a second before she said, “What else can you tell me?” So I had a think and I asked her if she understood why I always get her and her brother to ask before hugging or kissing or holding hands with someone (this is a tricky one at the moment as Little Pea is a very tactile and open creature and likes to enthusiastically hug and kiss almost everyone he meets. I’m hoping the daily reminders will one day start to trigger some kind of understanding, preferably before the onset of puberty). Again this chat went on for a while, and culminated in The Princess reiterating our well-told advice of doing absolutely anything in your power to get away from someone who does not stop touching you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, after telling them and yelling at them to stop. The conversation goes the way it does every time we have it.
“Yes. Do anything to get away. And then tell someone, me, Daddy, a teacher, anyone who can help”.
Cue lots of grinning and concealed excitement at being given permission to act in a way that is usually discouraged, followed by, “What else can we talk about now?”
I had just started to discuss the importance of smashing the patriarchy in any tiny way possible, when it was time to leave for school. My fierce little girl left for the big wide world (okay, her tiny little primary school) equipped with the knowledge that she has the power to say No when she needs to, that she does not have to carry around secrets that make her feel uncomfortable, or that put her or anyone else in harms way, that she can fight back when needs be, and that the responsible adults in her life are there to listen to her and to keep her safe. My daughter was born with a fire in her soul and I hope that by talking the way we do with each other, no matter how big my girl gets, she will always remain fierce.